Horacio Loriente

e was born in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. At age eleven he began to study violin at the Facio conservatory where he graduated as teacher and was awarded a gold medal. Parallely he studied at the State Law School (Facultad de Derecho) but he interrupted his studies when he chose music as the passion of his life.

He was member of the Facio string quartet that played chamber music and made a successful European tour. Roberto Zerrillo made his debut at the Defensa cinema theater, on the corner of Defensa and Lavalleja, he later switched to another theater, El Requena or Las Novedades, which was located on Joaquín Requena Street near Dante Street, both in the city of Montevideo.

In 1921 he joined the famous orchestra led by Carlos Warren and made his debut at the Moulin Rouge where he played alongside Eduardo Arolas. By the end of the year he went to Buenos Aires and appeared in the outfit of the Parisiana Theater. There he met Juan Carlos Cobián, then pianist in the Osvaldo Fresedo Orchestra. He sat for an audition and was hired for the summer season 1921/22 in Mar del Plata. There they played at the Ocean Club at sunset and in the evening at the Club Mar del Plata. The Osvaldo Fresedo Orchestra presented an all-star line-up: Juan Carlos Cobián (piano); Osvaldo Fresedo and Luis Minervini (bandoneons), Tito Roccatagliata and Roberto Zerrillo (violins). In those shows great tango pieces were premiered: "Sollozos", "Mi refugio" and "Elegante papirusa". When Zerrillo left he was replaced by Manlio Francia.

Zerrillo’s tenure with Osvaldo Fresedo was brief. He returned to Montevideo, and rejoined Warren’s orchestra, the most famous outfit of the time, requested not only by public places but also by families that hired it to play at their dancing parties. They opened the Gran cine Capitol (18 de Julio near Andes). There he met Edgardo Donato. In another important performance Zerrillo, Juan Baüer and Héctor Artola played a special show on Radio El Día.

By the late 1926 he put together an orchestra with Edgardo Donato, and they made their debut at the Café Avenida on the corner of 18 de Julio Avenue and Río Branco. They besides played at the Royal, Chantecler, Hotel Carrasco and Teatro Solís to great acclaim. They were nine musicians: Osvaldo Donato (piano); Edgardo Donato, Roberto Zerrillo and Armando Piovani (violins); Héctor Artola, Héctor Gentile and José Turturiello (bandoneons); Ascanio Donato (cello) and Antonio Bancalá (bass). In December 1927 Héctor Artola left and was replaced by Juan Spera. Soon later the Argentine impresario Augusto Álvarez, owner of the Select Lavalle cinema theater, after listening to the orchestra at the Hotel Carrasco, offered them a contract. The full orchestra went to Buenos Aires and made its debut in the above mentioned theater on March 21, 1928 with the Uruguayan singer Luis Díaz.

Donato and Zerrillo wrote their famous tango “Se va la vida” that they premiered at the Select Lavalle to great acclaim. The Uruguayan orchestra, as it was known even though Edgardo Donato was one of its members, as well interested Brunswick Records, where they recorded fifty numbers. By that time some musicians had split and others joined it. Besides the leaders, the two Donato brothers, José Turturiello and Armando Piovani remained. The rest of the musicians in the recordings were Luis Vilardi and Luis Brizzi (bandoneons); Pascual H. Martínez (violin) and José Campesi (bass).

The Donato-Zerrillo Orchestra, reinforced by other musicians of the milieu, played at the Teatro San Martín of Buenos Aires during the carnival celebrations of 1930. By the mid 1930 Roberto Zerrillo quit and traveled to Chile. The following year Roberto Zerrillo and Oreste Cúfaro were part of the numerous artistic embassy that, headed by Azucena Maizani, appeared in Spain and Portugal. On his comeback to Buenos Aires, by the mid 1932, Zerrillo put together an orchestra. Its debut was at the Fénix cinema of Flores, and appeared at shows of soap operas at the Porteño and Rose Marie theaters. As well they appeared on LR3, then Radio Nacional. They cut an instrumental record for Victor and another with Fiorentino on vocals. On December 12, 1933, they performed a show with free admittance at the hall of the Teatro Artigas of Montevideo. After that the outfit dismembered.

He reappeared on Radio Belgrano in the early 1935 leading a qualified group of musicians. In November 1937, embellished with great compliments, a specialized magazine of Buenos Aires brought forth the outstanding Zerrillo's line-up for his radio shows: Emilio Barbato and Juan Carlos Howard (pianos); Asandú, Bibiloni, Dojman, Schols, J. Dojman and Reynaldo Nichele (violins); Brunnini, García, Gasciani, San Miguel and Croce (bandoneons); Vitale (bass) and the vocalists Elsa Medina and Jorge Cardoso.

Zerrillo continued his successful career and, between 1939 and 1942, he recorded his repertory in the Victor label, always with two pianos. Emilio Barbato had left and was replaced by Fernando Martín. In January 1943 maestro César Zagnoli became the pianist of the orchestra. He had previously played in the outfit led by Joaquín Do Reyes. The following month they traveled to Montevideo to play on CX44 Radio Monumental, and they also played at different parties in the carnival seasons. When they returned to Buenos Aires they cut only one record for Odeon, which would be the last one, and then Zerrillo split with his musicians, that in spite of that, fulfilled pending engagements on radio stations under the leadership of the violinist Varela Conte.

In the meantime, Zerrillo returned to Montevideo, and for a time he did not play but in the early 1944 he put together the one which would be his last orchestra. In February 1944 they appeared at the Rambla Hotel and at the Palacio Salvo. It was a group with excellent Uruguayan musicians, a total of twenty-six, among them we mention the following: Podestá and Tití Puente (pianos); Cuenca, Mejía, Marenales, Amoroso, Ferrari, García (bandoneons); Bettoni, Garabito, Jancich, Texeira (violins); Puglia and Addiego (basses) and the vocalists Francisco Amor and Luis Alberto Fleitas.

Their performances were very scarce. Retired from musical activities he worked for a publishing house and also for an insurance company. Due to an incurable ailment, this great figure of popular music passed away on May 5, 1955.

He wrote over thirty published works. His first tango tune dates back to 1927 and was in collaboration with Edgardo Donato; it was titled "Don José". It is worth while mentioning of his most splendid time of his orchestra, his "Rapsodia en tango" in collaboration with Fernando Martín and "Melodía oriental" with Juan Carlos Howard.